With the winter holidays upon us, there's inevitably a long list of new recipes I want to develop, and usually I have an equally long list of friends willing to be official taste testers. However, I've found that Thanksgiving is not the time for experimenting.
Enter the ubiquitous potato casseroles, smothered green beans and sage stuffing — dishes that ooze with marshmallow sweetness or condensed ingredients that conjure intense food recollections, both good and bad. But there is no compromising for some, and so I relent and make room for all the wayward dishes. It's funny, though, how time mellows our memories of those flavors we once thought of as indispensable to a meal like Thanksgiving, foods we are fond of in the moment but wouldn't dream of touching any other time of the year.
Thankfully, some of the feast foods from my childhood -- whiskey wieners; red and green sandwich loaf; a type of fritter called chicken poulet and turkey poulet (imagine my surprise years later living in France when no one understood why I was asking about "chicken chicken" and the even more puzzling "turkey chicken") -- have not been part of my holiday menus since leading the charge and setting my own tables.
One standard that everyone seems to feel accepting of is canned cranberry sauce, preferably still in the shape of the can, with all the little ridges intact. Admittedly, I always save space on my plate for a few spoonfuls of jiggly ridge, but I also like to offer a fresh version that marries bergamot-scented Earl Grey tea with whole warming spices that play well with tart cranberry. There's no need to oust the traditions; food, like memory, is an ever-evolving and moveable feast, and I've found that there's a place and time for all.
-- Kim Sunée is the bestselling author of "Trail of Crumbs: Hunger, Love, and the Search for Home" and "A Mouthful of Stars." For more food and travel, visit kimsunee.com and instagram/kimsunee.
Spiced Earl Grey cranberry sauce
Note: I don't mind leaving the whole spices in the sauce, but if you're worried about guests crunching into a cardamom pod or star anise, remove before adding the cranberries. If you have a favorite tea, experiment; a spiced masala chai or a vanilla-laced option would work well. You can make this four days in advance and store, covered, in the refrigerator. Or freeze up to one month. Serve with roast meats, vegetables on sandwiches, toast or over ice cream.
Makes about 5 cups
1 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 to 5 whole cardamom pods
3 whole star anise
3 cinnamon sticks
4 bags earl grey tea
24 ounces whole fresh (or frozen) cranberries
1 clementine or small orange, quartered
Place sugar, water, cardamom, star anise, and cinnamon in a large heavy-bottom pot; bring to a boil; reduce heat to low and simmer (there should be light bubbles on the surface) 10 minutes. Add Earl Grey tea bags, and set timer for 3 minutes. Remove tea bags and spices, if desired; add whole cranberries and clementine. Increase heat to medium-high and simmer, stirring often, until cranberries soften and skins begin to split open and sauce thickens, about 12 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature before serving. Or cover and refrigerate up to four days or freeze up to one month.